Reginald McKenna

(1863—1943) politician and banker

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(b. London, 6 July 1863; d. London, 6 Sept. 1943) British; Chancellor of the Exchequer 1915 –16 The son of a civil servant, McKenna was educated at King's College School, London, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, before becoming a barrister. He entered the Commons in 1895. After a year as a junior Treasury minister in the Liberal government formed by Henry Campbell-Bannerman in 1905, he spent the following nine years in four separate Cabinet posts: president of the Board of Education (1907 –8); First Lord of the Admiralty (1908 –11); Home Secretary (1911 –15); and Chancellor of the Exchequer (1915 –16).

McKenna's ministerial career was often controversial. At the Admiralty, he was at the heart of Cabinet disputes over the seriousness of the threat presented by the growth of the German navy: in 1909 resistance to his demands for many more capital ships led him to threaten resignation. At the Home Office, he had to steer through legislation to disestablish the Welsh church, passage of which was achieved only by invoking the Parliament Act to overcome opposition in the Lords. But the greatest controversy arose over his Prisons (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, 1913. This unpopular (‘Cat and Mouse’) legislation permitted hunger-striking convicted suffragettes to be repeatedly released temporarily and then reimprisoned. McKenna's chancellorship included the immensely difficult problems created by the massive military expenditure necessitated by the war.

When H. H. Asquith's government collapsed in December 1916 McKenna declined to serve under David Lloyd George and never again held ministerial office. He was approached to become Chancellor of the Exchequer again in 1922, but no suitable parliamentary seat could be found for him (he had been defeated in 1918). He spent the remainder of his working life as chairman of the Midland Bank.

From A Dictionary of Political Biography in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Politics.

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